The contribution of climate change to shifts in a species' geographic distribution is a critical and often unresolved ecological question. Climate change in Antarctica is asymmetric, with cooling in parts of the continent and warming along the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). The Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is a circumpolar meso-predator exposed to the full range of Antarctic climate and is undergoing dramatic population shifts coincident with climate change. We used true presence-absence data on Adélie penguin breeding colonies to estimate past and future changes in habitat suitability during the chick-rearing period based on historic satellite observations and future climate model projections. During the contemporary period, declining Adélie penguin populations experienced more years with warm sea surface temperature compared to populations that are increasing. Based on this relationship, we project that one-third of current Adélie penguin colonies, representing ~20% of their current population, may be in decline by 2060. However, climate model projections suggest refugia may exist in continental Antarctica beyond 2099, buffering species-wide declines. Climate change impacts on penguins in the Antarctic will likely be highly site specific based on regional climate trends, and a southward contraction in the range of Adélie penguins is likely over the next century.
Climate change is a major threat to global biodiversity. Antarctic ecosystems are no exception. Investigating past species responses to climatic events can distinguish natural from anthropogenic impacts. Climate change produces ‘winners’, species that benefit from these events and ‘losers’, species that decline or become extinct. Using molecular techniques, we assess the demographic history and population structure of Pygoscelis penguins in the Scotia Arc related to climate warming after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). All three pygoscelid penguins responded positively to post-LGM warming by expanding from glacial refugia, with those breeding at higher latitudes expanding most. Northern (Pygoscelis papua papua) and Southern (Pygoscelis papua ellsworthii) gentoo sub-species likely diverged during the LGM. Comparing historical responses with the literature on current trends, we see Southern gentoo penguins are responding to current warming as they did during post-LGM warming, expanding their range southwards. Conversely, Adélie and chinstrap penguins are experiencing a ‘reversal of fortunes’ as they are now declining in the Antarctic Peninsula, the opposite of their response to post-LGM warming. This suggests current climate warming has decoupled historic population responses in the Antarctic Peninsula, favoring generalist gentoo penguins as climate change ‘winners’, while Adélie and chinstrap penguins have become climate change ‘losers’.
Major, long-term environmental changes are projected in the Southern Ocean and these are likely to have impacts for marine predators such as the Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae). Decadal monitoring studies have provided insight into the short-term environmental sensitivities of Adélie penguin populations, particularly to sea ice changes. However, given the long-term nature of projected climate change, it is also prudent to consider the responses of populations to environmental change over longer time scales. We investigated the population trajectory of Adélie penguins during the last glacial-interglacial transition to determine how the species was affected by climate warming over millennia. We focussed our study on East Antarctica, which is home to 30 % of the global population of Adélie penguins.
In contrast to their terrestrial call, the offshore call of penguins during their foraging trips has been poorly studied due to the inaccessibility of the foraging site-the open ocean-to researchers. Here, we present the first description of the vocal behaviour of penguins in the open ocean and discuss the function of their vocal communication. We deployed an animal-borne camera on gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) and recorded their foraging behaviour during chick guarding. From the video recordings, we collected 598 offshore calls from 10 individuals in two breeding seasons (2014-2015 and 2015-2016), and we analysed the acoustic characteristics and behavioural contexts of these calls, including diving patterns, group association events, and foraging behaviour. The offshore calls varied in their dominant frequency and length, and penguins produced calls of different lengths in succession. Group associations were observed within one minute following an offshore call in almost half of the instances (43.18%). Penguins undertook dives of shallower depths and shorter durations after producing an offshore call than those before producing an offshore call. Our findings show that penguins may use vocal communication in the ocean related with group association during foraging trips.
IN THE CONTEXT OF PREDICTED ALTERATION OF SEA ICE COVER AND INCREASED FREQUENCY OF EXTREME EVENTS, IT IS ESPECIALLY TIMELY TO INVESTIGATE PLASTICITY WITHIN ANTARCTIC SPECIES RESPONDING TO A KEY ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECT OF THEIR ECOLOGY: sea ice variability. Using 13 years of longitudinal data, we investigated the effect of sea ice concentration (SIC) on the foraging efficiency of Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) breeding in the Ross Sea. A ‘natural experiment’ brought by the exceptional presence of giant icebergs during 5 consecutive years provided unprecedented habitat variation for testing the effects of extreme events on the relationship between SIC and foraging efficiency in this sea-ice dependent species. Significant levels of phenotypic plasticity were evident in response to changes in SIC in normal environmental conditions. Maximum foraging efficiency occurred at relatively low SIC, peaking at 6.1% and decreasing with higher SIC. The ‘natural experiment’ uncoupled efficiency levels from SIC variations. Our study suggests that lower summer SIC than currently observed would benefit the foraging performance of Adélie penguins in their southernmost breeding area. Importantly, it also provides evidence that extreme climatic events can disrupt response plasticity in a wild seabird population. This questions the predictive power of relationships built on past observations, when not only the average climatic conditions are changing but the frequency of extreme climatic anomalies is also on the rise.
Climate-driven sympatry may lead to competition for food resources between species. Rapid warming in the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is coincident with increasing gentoo penguin and decreasing Adélie penguin populations, suggesting that competition for food may exacerbate the Adélie penguin decline. On fine scales, we tested for foraging competition between these species during the chick-rearing period by comparing their foraging behaviors with the distribution of their prey, Antarctic krill. We detected krill aggregations within the horizontal and vertical foraging ranges of Adélie and gentoo penguins, and found that krill selected for habitats that balance the need to consume food and avoid predation. In overlapping Adélie and gentoo penguin foraging areas, four gentoo penguins switched foraging behavior by foraging at deeper depths, a strategy which limits competition with Adélie penguins. This suggests that climate-driven sympatry does not necessarily result in competitive exclusion of Adélie penguins by gentoo penguins. Contrary to a recent theory, which suggests that increased competition for krill is one of the major drivers of Adélie penguin population declines, we suggest that declines in Adélie penguins along the WAP are more likely due to direct and indirect climate impacts on their life histories.
The aim of this work is to contribute to the knowledge of gastrointestinal parasites of the Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) from 25 de Mayo/King George Island (South Shetlands, Antarctica). Gastrointestinal tracts of 37 fresh dead individuals (21 chicks, 10 juveniles, and 6 adults) were collected from December 2006 to February 2012 and examined for macroparasites. Four adult parasite species were found: one Cestoda species (Parorchites zederi), two Nematoda species (Stegophorus macronectes and Tetrameres wetzeli), and one Acanthocephalan (Corynosoma shackletoni). Two species of immature acanthocephalans, Corynosoma hamanni and Corynosoma bullosum, were found in a single host. This is the first record of Tetrameres wetzeli in Gentoo penguins. The low parasite richness observed could be related to the stenophagic and pelagic diet of this host species which feeds almost exclusively on krill.
Aggregations of young animals are common in a range of endothermic and ectothermic species, yet the adaptive behavior may depend on social circumstance and local conditions. In penguins, many species form aggregations (aka. crèches) for a variety of purposes, whilst others have never been observed exhibiting this behavior. Those that do form aggregations do so for three known benefits: 1) reduced thermoregulatory requirements, 2) avoidance of unrelated-adult aggression, and 3) lower predation risk. In gentoo penguins, Pygoscelis papua, chick aggregations are known to form during the post-guard period, yet the cause of these aggregations is poorly understood. Here, for the first time, we study aggregation behavior in gentoo penguins, examining four study sites along a latitudinal gradient using time-lapse cameras to examine the adaptive benefit of aggregations to chicks. Our results support the idea that aggregations of gentoo chicks decrease an individual’s energetic expenditure when wet, cold conditions are present. However, we found significant differences in aggregation behavior between the lowest latitude site, Maiviken, South Georgia, and two of the higher latitude sites on the Antarctic Peninsula, suggesting this behavior may be colony specific. We provide strong evidence that more chicks aggregate and a larger number of aggregations occur on South Georgia, while the opposite occurs at Petermann Island in Antarctica. Future studies should evaluate multiple seabird colonies within one species before generalizing behaviors based on one location, and past studies may need to be re-evaluated to determine whether chick aggregation and other behaviors are in fact exhibited species-wide.
Changes in penguin populations on the Antarctic Peninsula have been linked to several environmental factors, but the potentially devastating impact of volcanic activity has not been considered. Here we use detailed biogeochemical analyses to track past penguin colony change over the last 8,500 years on Ardley Island, home to one of the Antarctic Peninsula’s largest breeding populations of gentoo penguins. The first sustained penguin colony was established on Ardley Island c. 6,700 years ago, pre-dating sub-fossil evidence of Peninsula-wide occupation by c. 1,000 years. The colony experienced five population maxima during the Holocene. Overall, we find no consistent relationships with local-regional atmospheric and ocean temperatures or sea-ice conditions, although the colony population maximum, c. 4,000-3,000 years ago, corresponds with regionally elevated temperatures. Instead, at least three of the five phases of penguin colony expansion were abruptly ended by large eruptions from the Deception Island volcano, resulting in near-complete local extinction of the colony, with, on average, 400-800 years required for sustainable recovery.
We report long-term changes in population size of three species of sympatrically breeding pygoscelid penguins: Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae), chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarctica) and gentoo (Pygoscelis papua ellsworthii) over a 38 year period at Signy Island, South Orkney Islands, based on annual counts from selected colonies and decadal all-island systematic counts of occupied nests. Comparing total numbers of breeding pairs over the whole island from 1978/79 to 2015/16 revealed varying fortunes: gentoo penguin pairs increased by 255%, (3.5% per annum), chinstrap penguins declined by 68% (-3.6% per annum) and Adélie penguins declined by 42% (-1.5% per annum). The chinstrap population has declined steadily over the last four decades. In contrast, Adélie and gentoo penguins have experienced phases of population increase and decline. Annual surveys of selected chinstrap and Adélie colonies produced similar trends from those revealed by island-wide surveys, allowing total island population trends to be inferred relatively well. However, while the annual colony counts of chinstrap and Adélie penguins showed a trend consistent in direction with the results from all-island surveys, the magnitude of estimated population change was markedly different between colony wide and all island counts. Annual population patterns suggest that pair numbers in the study areas partly reflect immigration and emigration of nesting birds between different parts of the island. Breeding success for all three species remained broadly stable over time in the annually monitored colonies. Breeding success rates in gentoo and chinstrap penguins were strongly correlated, despite the differing trends in population size. This study shows the importance of effective, standardised monitoring to accurately determine long-term population trajectories. Our results indicate significant declines in the Adélie and chinstrap penguin populations at Signy Island over the last five decades, and a gradual increase in gentoo breeding pairs.